Novel compounds with potential to attenuate or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD) from its presymptomatic stage to dementia are being tested in man. The study design commonly used is the long-term randomized, placebo-controlled trial (RPCT), meaning that many patients will receive placebo for 18 months or longer. It is ethically problematic to expose presymptomatic AD patients, who by definition are at risk of developing dementia, to prolonged placebo treatment. As an alternative to long-term RPCTs we propose a novel clinical study design, termed the placebo group simulation approach (PGSA), using mathematical models to forecast outcomes of presymptomatic AD patients from their own baseline data. Forecasted outcomes are compared with outcomes observed on candidate drugs, thus replacing a concomitant placebo group.
First models were constructed using mild cognitive impairment (MCI) data from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) database. One outcome is the Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale - cognitive subscale (ADAScog) score after 24 months, predicted in a linear regression model; the other is the trajectory over 36 months of a composite neuropsychological test score (Neuro-Psychological Battery (NP-Batt)), using a mixed model. Demographics and clinical, biological and neuropsychological baseline values were tested as potential predictors in both models.
ADAScog scores after 24 months are predicted from gender, obesity, Functional Assessment Questionnaire (FAQ) and baseline scores of Mini-Mental State Examination, ADAScog and NP-Batt with an R2 of 0.63 and a residual standard deviation of 0.67, allowing reasonably precise estimates of sample means. The model of the NP-Batt trajectory has random intercepts and slopes and fixed effects for body mass index, time, apolipoprotein E4, age, FAQ, baseline scores of ADAScog and NP-Batt, and four interaction terms. Estimates of the residual standard deviation range from 0.3 to 0.5 on a standard normal scale. If novel drug candidates are expected to diminish the negative slope of scores with time, a change of 0.04 per year could be detected in samples of 400 with a power of about 80%.
First PGSA models derived from ADNI MCI data allow prediction of cognitive endpoints and trajectories that correspond well with real observed values. Corroboration of these models with data from other observational studies is ongoing. It is suggested that the PGSA may complement RPCT designs in forthcoming long-term drug studies with presymptomatic AD individuals.